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Every year we close out the year with obituaries.  I feel like the main-stream media does a pretty good job of memorializing the entertainers and showbiz folks who have passed away, so, although I loved Tom Petty, John Hillerman, Roger Moore, and John Hurt (and too many others), I will leave it to someone else to eulogize them.  Additionally, I have had less time to blog this year than I would like, so please don’t be upset if I miss a great and important scientist, algebraist, or artist.  That is what the comments are for!  I also tried to include some eminent scholars and artists from East Asia (since it feels like our counterweight cultures are divided by a gulf of misunderstanding and we overlook the cultural work being done there).  I was saddened to see how many astronauts from the golden first age of space exploration passed away.  Humankind becomes ever more insular and parochial: we squander our resources on useless giveaways to monopolistic companies and crooked oligarchs (who blow their money on status objects or remove it from circulation).  These days we barely even explore the heavens (much less travel there).  I wonder if there will ever be another generation of heroes to walk the moon or orbit the Earth once these figures from fade away.  At any rate, here is a brief list of 2017 obituaries to make us think about the brevity of life and the true nature of accomplishment:

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Zhou Youguang (January 13, 1906 – January 14, 2017) was a scholar who invented Pinyin, a system for the romanization of Mandarin Chinese (a language which does not fit easily into the Roman alphabet).  So excellent was his work that  Pinyin was officially adopted by the government of the People’s Republic of China in 1958.  Pinyin has now largely supplanted the Wade-Giles system and is the method by which Chinese is known to Western scholars or input on Roman keyboards.  Zhou Youguang lived through the dramatically changing China of the Qing Dynasty, The Republic of China, The Second World War Invasion by Japan, and The People’s Republic.  He was “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution and was critical of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

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George A. Romero (February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017) was the masterful director of terrifying zombie movies which were thinly veiled allegories for the problems of contemporary society.

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Kim Jong-nam (May 10 1971 – 13 February 2017): this unremarkable man was the eldest son of the genocidal sociopath Kim Jong-il,the late dictator of North Korea.  Kim Jong-nam was murdered in Singapore at the command of his brother (by means of poison, in a plot worthy of dark fantasy literature).  While Kim Jong-nam’s death is of no consequence in itself, it speaks to the criminal nature of the North Korean regime and foreshadows countless deaths to come at the mercurial will of their fat cruel tyrant.  There are two stories of why Kim Jong-nam was disinherited: in one story he was cut out of the family business for trying to sneak into Tokyo Disneyland (but insiders whisper he was exiled and ultimately murdered for favoring reform).

David Rockefeller (June 12, 1915 – March 20, 2017) was the last surviving grandson of John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (a 19th century tycoon who built the Standard Oil Trust and thus became by far the richest individual of America’s gilded age).  There was a point in the 1970s when David’s brother Nelson was Governor of New York and then Vice President of the United States, and yet David was reputed to be more powerful and connected.

Sir Nicholas Winton (May 19, 1909 – July 1, 2015) was a swordsman, banker and stockbroker who rescued of 669 Jewish children, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by means of paperwork wizardry, networking, and money-raising.

Sam Shepard (November 5, 1943 – July 27, 2017) was a playwright and actor who applied the Beckett’s absurd style to themes of family, violence, and substance abuse and thus carved out a uniquely American theater style.

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Hugh Heffner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) was a controversial publisher whose magazine “Playboy” was famous for cultural articles, progressive editorials, and reproductive advice which challenged America’s puritanical mores.  The magazine was however more famous for lubricious pictures of naked women and espousing a hedonistic (sexist?) lifestyle.  This legacy, and the distasteful…extravagance…of Hugh Heffner’s private life made him a polarizing figure, but he must be mentioned (and honored) because of the debt which generation after generation of pre-internet era adolescent boys owe him.

Richard Francis Gordon Jr. (October 5, 1929 – November 6, 2017) was an American naval officer, chemist, and astronaut.  He is only one of 24 people to have flown to the moon (although he didn’t get to walk on it).  Later he helped design the space shuttle and served as Executive Vice President of the New Orleans Saints.

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Bruce McCandless II, (June 8, 1937 – December 21, 2017) was a U.S. Navy officer, pilot, and NASA astronaut who made the first untethered free flight in space.

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Wang Panyuan (c. 1908 – December 22nd, 2017) was a famous Chinese/Taiwanese painter who brought together classical Chinese painting with expressionism.

 

 

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The year 2016 was infamous for death and grievous setback. While beloved celebrities died in droves, major western institutions were rocked to their core by poor choices (indeed the American democracy itself may be dead after voters decided to elect a nefarious con artist as president). The Great Barrier Reef, cheetahs, giraffes, beautiful compassionate elephants, and even teleosts all seem to be rapidly heading out the door as well.  It makes you wonder about 2017.

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However we are already getting away from the sad topic of 2016 obituaries. I loved David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Carrie Fisher as much as anyone, but I feel like their lives were celebrated by, you know, popular websites.  Ferrebeekeeper has always tried to emphasize scientists, artists, and people from my own life in the year-end obituaries, so I am leaving out David Bowie even though he arguably fits into “art” and “space” categories (and maybe “Deities of the Underworld”as well).  You can read amazing obituaries about Prince, Princess Leia, and the Thin White Duke anywhere.

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Harper Lee, (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016) was famous for writing a single book,To Kill a Mockingbird, a child’s eye view of America on the precipice of sweeping social changes.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali (November 14, 1922 – February 16, 2016) was an Egyptian diplomat who helped orchestrate Egypt’s peace deal with Israel and later served as a largely ineffectual U.N. secretary-general.

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Umberto Eco  (January 5, 1932 – February 19, 2016) was an Italian novelist and semiotician who wrote popular works of fiction about medieval scholastic philosophy (!).

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Bob Ebeling, 89, was a booster rocket engineer who spent thirty years filled with remorse that he was unable to stop the ill-fated 1985 launch of the space shuttle Challenger (which was destroyed by faulty O-rings in the booster rockets).  His story is a cautionary tale for executives and politicians to listen to the people who build things.

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Jeremy Blake Ferrebee (August 6, 1985- March 18, 2016) was my cousin. Jeremy loved fishing and he was famously generous and kind, however he struggled mightily with personal demons in the form of substance abuse issues. I am worried that I will offend my family by mentioning his problems here, but I cared for Jeremy and I was sad about his death.  Our nation doesn’t just have a problem with substance abuse (a problem which is inextricably bound up with being a human) we have a problem even talking about this problem in a way which isn’t self-defeating.  I certainly don’t know what the answer to this is, but we had better keep working on it.

Merle Haggard (April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016) was a country music star (ok, so we are slipping a pop star into this list) who came from a background of poverty and prison.  His songs address the hard-scrabble nature of rural life in the south and west with a mixture of sadness, machismo, and national pride.

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Marisol Escobar (May 22, 1930 – April 30, 2016) was a conceptual portrait sculptor of great originality (see Ferrebeekeeper tribute from spring).

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Elie Wiesel, (September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016) was a Romanian-born Jew who survived the Holocaust.  His stark & simple prose detailed the atrocities he experienced in a Nazi death camp. Despite the darkness of his personal history, Wiesel was a great humanist and humanitarian.

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Edward Albee, (March 12, 1928 – September 16, 2016) was a playwright whose twisting inward-looking writings detailed the anomie of post-war American.  His plays ask probing questions about the possibility of finding true common ground in social relationships.

Bhumibol Adulyadej (December 5, 1927 – October 13, 2016) was the king of Thailand for a long time (see Ferrebeekeeper obituary).

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Mark McFarland (July 13, 1961 — November 29, 2016).  Mark and I were business partners. Together we created a line of animal building toys called”Zoomorphs.” After numerous corporate tribulations, we had a serious falling out.  Although he was tormented by dark implacable personal demons (see above), his toys delighted hundreds of thousands of children.

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John Herschel Glenn Jr. (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016) was an American pilot, engineer, and astronaut.  A war hero, who flew in over 122 combat missions during World War II and Korea, he was the first American to travel into Earth orbit in 1962. He later became a  United States Senator and then became the world’s oldest astronaut when he returned to space in 1998.

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Vera Rubin (July 23, 1928 – December 25, 2016) was an American astronomer who demonstrated the existence of dark matter through visionary work on galactic rotation.

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Richard Adams (May 9, 1920 – December 24, 2016) was a novelist who infused anthropomorphic fiction with zoology and naturalism (and with sociology and religion).  I have trouble with some of these concepts.  After all humans are animals too. maybe we need to revisit some of his works in future posts.

and there were so so many others–and I left a lot of people out. Sigh…good bye, 2016. We’re missing some people, but that is always the way of things. We will keep working to make it all better.

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As in years past, here is a short list of diverse people who died in 2015. Their lives reveal how miscellaneous and diverse…how dark and amazing the human condition is.

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King Abdullah (August, 1924 – January, 2015): arguably the world’s most powerful hereditary monarch: a troubling U.S. ally who utilized Islam to maintain near-absolute power over Saudi Arabia.

Carl Djerassi (October 29, 1923 – January, 2015):  An Austrian-born Bulgarian-American bio chemist institutional in the development of the modern birth control pill (among other breakthroughs).

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Leonard Nimoy (March, 1931 – February, 2015): an actor famous for presenting a compelling fantasy of alien intellect and spiritual excellence.

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Terry Pratchett (April, 1948 – March, 2015): a fantasy author, humorist, and humanist.

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Lee Kuan Yew (September 1923 – March, 2015): the architect of the meteoric rise of the city-state of Singapore.

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who received this year's Peace Prize from the Association of Publishe..

Chinua Achebe (November, 1930 – March, 2013: a giant of contemporary African literature.

Helmut Schmidt (December, 1918 – November, 2015): the West German Chancellor who guided the nation through the 1970s (and the cold depths of the Cold War).

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Gunter Grass (October 1927 – April, 2015): a great German prose stylist who looked deep into the darkness of life with his unflinching surreal literature of World War II Germany.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey (July, 1914 – August, 2015): a heroic physician and bureaucrat who stood up to the pharmaceutical industry to prevent the thalidomide crisis from being far worse.  She subsequently worked to craft and institute intelligent drug regulations.

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Ellsworth Kelly (May, 1923 – December, 2015): a minimalist artist fascinated with color.  His hard edged 3 dimensional paintings blurred the lines between painting, sculpture, and pure concept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Every year when I write obituaries, I look at the Wikipedia list of notable people who died during the year.  Since everyone dies, the list includes all sorts of people: clerics, horse breeders, spree killers, chefs, war heroes, astrologers, conductors, campaigners for suicide rights, and ever so many industrialists and financiers (whom nobody cares about anymore \other than greedy development departments and squabbling heirs).  It always strikes me that the people we all know about—the loud and shiny actors, the celebrity criminals, and the faded sportsmen–are not actually very important in the grand scheme of things.  Here is a very incomplete list of the people whom I thought were important who died this year.

 

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Shirley Temple Black (April 23rd, 1928 – February 10th, 2014) was one of Hollywood’s first child stars.  Later she worked as a public servant and diplomat serving as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.  Although she had an extraordinary life by every measure, I am including her here because when I was growing up I watched her Depression-era movies on a West Virginia movie channel that played weird old cinema.  Even though I was a little child (the presumed audience for these films?), the bizarre schmaltzy stories of singing princesses and dancing disinherited heiresses struck me as bizarre and otherworldly—like a relic from ancient Mesopotamia.

Book Cover "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

Book Cover “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (March 6th, 1927 – April 17th, 2014) was a novelist who popularized magical realism—a literary style in which symbolic supernatural elements represent the deterministic nature of family, politics, and religious indoctrination in human life.  His greatest work, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” follows the rise and fall of a family of Colombian landed gentry.  Yet the book transcended the specifics of its subject to craft a haunting dream about the nature of existence.

Dr. Jacinto Convit (September 11th, 1913 – May 12th, 2014) was a dermatologist and vaccine researcher.  Although he spent most of his life developing vaccines for leprosy and tropical diseases, his work also raised intriguing possibilities for cancer vaccines—ongoing work which may be incredibly important (or may be a complete dead end).  Convit developed a therapy against the fearsome tropical disease leishmaniasis, which once yearly killed some 20,000 to 30,000 people across the world, however his greatest contributions to medicine may not yet be realized.

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Maya Angelou (April 4th, 1928 – May 28th, 2014) was a poet and writer.  She worked as a journalist during the decolonization era in Africa (writing from Egypt and Ghana) and was politically active in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, however she is best known for her moving autobiographical or semi-autobiographical accounts of coming of age in the African-American community during the civil rights era.

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Felix Dennis (May 27th, 1947 – June 22nd, 2014) was a colorful British publishing mogul who monetized counter-culture in the sixties.  He organized this early success (and infamy) into an international media and “lifestyle” empire. Although businessmen might describe him otherwise, he is principally remembered as the patron for many promising sculptors and writers…and as a friend to trees who orchestrated a mass reforestation campaign throughout Great Britain.

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Noel Hinners (December 25th, 1935 – September 5th, 2014) was a geologist and the former chief scientist for NASA.  Hinners was instrumental in planning the scientific exploration of the moon.  After the Apollo era he oversaw other offworld projects such as the Mars Surveyor Program.

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Scott Carpenter (May 1st, 1925 – October 10th, 2013) was an astronaut in the Mercury Program.  He was the second American to orbit the earth in 1962.  During re-entry, the instruments of his single-person space capsule malfunctioned and he had to take manual control of the primitive space ship (which splashed down hundreds of miles off target).  He was the last surviving astronaut from the Mercury program except for John Glenn.

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Donald Stookey (May 23rd, 1915 – November 4th, 2014) invented “Corningware,” the super-strong, heat-resistant ceramic glass used in kitchens everywhere since the 1950s. As a cook and a lasagna-lover I salute his incredible contribution to the human race! His other ceramic and glass innovations have also revolutionized glasses, defense systems, and electronics.

RIP and thanks again for the lasagna dish, the vaccinations, the offworld exploration, and (sigh) “The Good Ship Lollypop.”

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Tomorrow we have a few final thoughts for the year and some ideas about where we’re headed next year!

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Another year is passing and, as in years past, we pause to recall some of the important people who passed away this year.  Numerous World War II heroes died as the greatest generation fades into a glorious Technicolor sunset.  We will not see their like again.  All sorts of celebrities, criminals, titans, sports stars, and pioneers also passed on as the great parade of human life continues.  Here are some of the scientists, space pioneers, artists, writers, and leaders who deserve a last shout out before 2014 begins with its possibilities, anxieties, and hopes.

Illustration from Frederick Back's "The Man Who Planted Trees"

Illustration from Frederick Back’s “The Man Who Planted Trees”

Noted animator Frederick Back died on December 24, 2013.  He was known for his profoundly moving short animations.

Dr. Janet Rowley in the lab

Dr. Janet Rowley in the lab

Dr. Janet Rowley demonstrated that chromosomal translocation was the underlying cause for leukemia (and other cancers). By establishing the genetic underpinnings of many cancers, she vastly furthered cancer research and treatment.  ABC news reported “She is a recipient of the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.” She was still publishing papers and researching at the University of Chicago (where she graduated from high school, college, and Medical School and spent most of her professional life) right up until her death on December 17, 2013.

Peter O'Toole in "Stardust"

Peter O’Toole in “Stardust”

Peter O’Toole one of the foremost thespians of our era died on December 14, 2013.  The quality of his movies varied wildly, but the quality of his acting was always the very highest.  I remember watching him on a late night chat show and being impressed by his vivacity and intelligence.  He finished the segment by reminding the audience that this isn’t a dress rehearsal (a sentiment which bears repeating).

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Harry Rosenthal an AP reporter who “covered America’s golden age of space exploration” died on Dec. 12, 2013.  I hope a new reporter appears on the scene to cover a newer and more glorious era of space exploration (but a lot needs to go right for that to happen).

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Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, died on December 5, 2013. Too often, brutal civil wars have swept across African nations after independence. It did not happen in South Africa thanks to largely to Nelson Mandela who reached out to his former oppressors in order to build a unified society.

That painting in the back was by Fred Scherer==he might have been one of the greatest living landscapists

That painting in the back was by Fred Scherer–he might have been one of the greatest living landscapists

Fred F. Scherer a painter and sculptor responsible for crafting some of the amazing wildlife dioramas for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, died Nov. 25, 2013.

Dorris Lessing drinking in front of a maritime painting

Dorris Lessing drinking in front of a maritime painting

Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize laureate and author of harrowing science fiction dystopias (some of which were based on her childhood in colonial Africa) died on November 17, 2013.

Legendary rock-and-roll musician Lou Reed died on October 27, 2013.

Legendary Irish punk/rock/traditional musician Philip Chevron died on October 8, 2013.

Chicago Pile 1 was underneath the underneath the bleachers at Stagg Field football stadium

Chicago Pile 1 was underneath the underneath the bleachers at Stagg Field football stadium

Harold Melvin Agnew, an American physicist and nuclear pioneer died on September 29, 2013.  He was best known for working on the first nuclear reactor (Chicago pile 1) taking part on the Hiroshima bombing mission as scientific observer, and (eventually) acting as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Young Roger Ebert

Young Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert died on April 4, 2013. Ebert was a screen writer, an essayist, and above all a movie critic.  I did not always agree with his reviews, but I usually liked reading them more than I enjoyed watching the films.

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Sigh, as 2012 winds down, it is time for the annual obituary list.  As in 2010 and 2011, this list is not at all comprehensive:  I have left off many famous entertainment personalities (who are amply celebrated elsewhere) and concentrated on scientists, artists, writers, puppeteers, and people whom I knew personally.  Even so, I have missed or omitted all sorts of names (sorry, Gore Vidal and Robert Bork).  The list is elegiac and personal: an obituary not just for people but for eras of time and aspects of life which are ineluctably passed:

H. Norman Schwartzkopf (Bob Daugherty/AP)

H. Norman Schwartzkopf (Bob Daugherty/AP)

H. Norman Schwarzkopf, (August 22, 1934 – December 27, 2012) was a United States Army officer. Schwarzkopf was most famous for his role as commander of coalition forces in the Gulf War, but he had a long infantryman’s pedigree including two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded three silver stars (along with numerous other awards for valor).  “Stormin’” Norman was famous not just for his logistical and tactical savvy but for his ability to deftly manipulate the press corps. I remember seeing him marching at the head of a mechanized infantry column during a victory parade in 1991 in Washington (an event which now seems almost as remote to present times as a Roman triumph).

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Norman Joseph Woodland (September 6, 1921 – December 9, 2012) was the co-creator of the barcode.  After fighting for his patent and his idea in the rough-and-tumble world of American business he ultimately became an important cog in IBM’s vast corporate machine.  The first consumer product with a UPC was scanned in 1974!

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Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) After flying combat missions for the US Navy in the Korean war Neil Armstrong spent years as a test pilot.  He left the military to pursue a career as an aerospace engineer, but as the space race quickened, he applied to NASA Astronaut Corps and was accepted as one of two civilian astronauts (the other was killed in a training accident).  In 1965, Armstrong was the pilot of Gemini 8–and thus piloted one of the two first spacecraft to dock with each other in outer space.  He returned to space in July of 1969 as mission commander of Apollo 11.  He was the first human to walk on the moon—the first person of any of us to step on a different celestial body.   After the moon landing, Armstrong taught engineering, farmed, raised his family and ignored his international fame, however as the current crop of useless politicians continue to slash away at research programs and at the space program itself, he joined together with his fellow astronauts to issue a public statement that “For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.”

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Jerry L. Nelson (July 10, 1934 – August 23, 2012) was a puppeteer, best known for his work on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Although not a towering hero who will be remembered for as long as humanity endures (like, oh, say, the first man on the moon) he was the puppeteer who gave voice and life to Mr. Snuffleupagus and Count Von Count (among many others).

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Isaac “Doc” Ferrebee (May 27, 1928 – August 15, 2012) was a family member.  He was a Staff Sergeant in the Army, a veteran of the Korean War, and worked at (the same!) metal plant for 40 years.  When I knew him, Doc was a tireless gardener and a great beekeeper.  I will always think of him at the edge of his sweet corn and potatoes carefully looking after his beautiful hives of honey bees.

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Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) was a pioneering science-fiction/fantasy writer who wrote strange moral allegories and fantasies concerning the possible future of humankind.  After a childhood epiphany in 1932, Bradbury wrote every single day for 69 years: his epiphany occured  when a carnival performer named Mr. Electrico touched his nose with an electrified sword (which caused young Bradbury’s hair to stand on end) and yelled “Live forever!”

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Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) was the first American woman in space.  Trained as a physicist she joined NASA in 1978 and traveled to low Earth orbit in 1983 upon the space shuttle Challenger.  In addition to being the youngest American astronaut to travel into space (she was 32 at the time of her flight) she also co-authored five children’s science books with her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy.

Illustration for "Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present" (Maurice Sendak, ca. 1977)

Illustration for “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present” (Maurice Sendak, ca. 1977)

Maurice Bernard Sendak  (June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012) was probably the foremost children’s book illustrator of the 20th century.  His work is famous for combining the dark wild passions of opera with the whimsical inventiveness of central European folklore.  Somehow Sendak took these elements and created his own unmistakable visual style of great beauty and depth.

The West Coast of Ireland

The West Coast of Ireland

Emmet Larkin (1927- March 19, 2012) was a tenured professor of history at the University of Chicago (in fact he was my favorite professor).  He studied and wrote about Irish history—most particularly the transformative role of the Roman Catholic Church in19th and early 20th century Ireland.  His most widely read book was “The Historical Dimensions of Irish Catholicism”.  In undergraduate school, I took his Irish history class and his class on Victorian England, both of which were great favorites thanks to vivid lectures and lively discussion.  To quote one of Larkin’s colleagues, Walter Kaegi “He was a good teacher of both graduates and undergraduates…He was lively, animated and very good with Ph.D. candidates. He had definite academic standards and maintained them.”  I will miss Larkin greatly because I enjoyed talking with him in class or at his office hours.  Additionally he appreciated my writings and ideas and served as a last link to the glorious world of the ivory tower.

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Janice “Jan” Berenstain (née Grant; July 26, 1923 – February 24, 2012) worked with her late husband Stan Berenstain to create the “Berenstain bears” a fictional family of (strangely simian) middle-class bears. The bear family worked together to face the trials and tribulations of family life in a series of fairly blunt moral lessons (spread through a diverse entertainment portfolio of books, animations, andgames).  Since the Berenstain bears were hitting the apogee of their fame just as I was entering elementary school, I recall lots of Berenstain stories from those years.  Although many of those stories no doubt featured healthy lessons about patience and not throwing tantrums, what I remember most was their visit to a haunted house filled with bats and animated suits of armor.  That was amazing!

Good-Bye to All That

Good-Bye to All That

Florence Green (February 19, 1901 – February 4, 2012) was the last person to serve in World War I (as a waitress on an air base in England).  With her death, that terrible conflict takes another step deeper into the history books and away from the living experience of humankind.

Gosh, there were some famous astronauts there.  It almost seems like our heroic future in space is rapidly becoming a mythicized past.

I am always frustrated when the “who we lost in 2011” obituary lists come out and they are filled with actors and popular entertainers (although I am rather pleased that this year’s list contained so many despots, terrorists, and mass murderers).

Good riddance!

Although I enjoyed M*A*S*H and Columbo, televised entertainments are not foremost in my list of human accomplishments.  Therefore here is my (not at all comprehensive) overview of various important people who died in 2011.  I have tried to concentrate on scientists, doctors, and heroes (as I tend to hold them in the highest respect) but some painters, toymakers, and fantasy illustrators crept into my list thanks to my own professional background.  We will miss these notable people who passed on in 2011:

John “Jack” Ertle Oliver (September 26, 1923 – January 5, 2011) was a geologist who provided scientific data supporting the (then controversial) place tectonic model of continental drift.

Milton Levine (November 3rd, 1913 – January 16th, 2011) was a toy inventor who created Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm—one of the ultimate fad toys. More than 20 million units were sold during Levine’s lifetime. In 1956, while at a Fourth of July picnic, he became entranced by a mound of ants.  His fascination with the teeming colony of hymenopterans led him to found Uncle Milton’s Toys.

Uncle Milton's Ant Farm (one of 20,000,000)

Frank Buckles (February 1st, 1901 – February 27th, 2011)was the last living American veteran of World War I.  He drove ambulances in the mud of France and was still driving the tractor on his West Virginia farm until he was 103. He was one of the last survivors of the so-called “Lost Generation” passing away of natural causes at the age of 110.

Frank Buckles in his World War I Uniform

Simon van der Meer (November 24th, 1925 – March 4th, 2011) was a particle physicist from the Netherlands who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the W and Z particles, two of the most fundamental constituents of matter.

Paul Baran (1926- March 26th, 2011) was a Polish-American engineer who invented packet switching techniques critical to the internet.  He additionally helped develop many other technologies including cable modems, interactive TV, and airport metal detectors.

Baruch Samuel “Barry” Blumberg (July 28th, 1925 – April 5th, 2011) Blumberg received a Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the Hepatitis B virus, for which he subsequently developed a diagnostic test and a vaccine. He patented his vaccine and then distributed it for free to international pharmaceutical companies (thereby saving millions of people from a life of disease, serious liver complications, and early death).

Baruch Samuel “Barry” Blumberg

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (July 19th, 1921 – May 30th, 2011) was the second woman to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of her work developing the Radioimmunoassay, an in vitro immune assay technique which revolutionized the field of endocrinology.

Lucian Freud (December 8th, 1922 – July 20th, 2011) was a figurative painter who crafted impasto portraits of normal people in anguished poses. His fleshy nudes were so un-erotic and anti-beautiful that they took on their own strange heroic dimension.

Reflection, self portrait (Lucian Freud, 1985, oil on canvas)

Elliot Handler (April 9, 1916 – July 21, 2011) was a toy-maker and businessperson who co-founded Mattel (the “el” stood for Elliot).  He designed or popularized famous toys including Barbie, Burp Gun, Chatty Cathy, and Hot Wheels.

The first Barbie doll shown at New York Toy Fair in 1959.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (June 27th, 1936 – July 23rd, 2011) was the first foreign born soldier to rise up through the American army to become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.  His father, Prince Dimitri Shalikashvili (1896–1978), was a Geogian nobleman who served the army of Imperial Russia before fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution to Poland.

Wilson Greatbatch (September 6th, 1919 – September 27th, 2011) invented the implantable cardiac pacemaker now worn constantly by countless survivors of heart disease.

John McCarthy (September 4th, 1927 – October 24th, 2011) was a cognitive scientist and computer pioneer who coined the phrase “Artificial Intelligence” in 1956.  He created the LISP programming language.

Lynn Margulis (March 5th, 1938 – November 22nd, 2011) was a cell biologist and philosopher best known for her theory on the symbiotic origin of eukaryotic organelles. Her contributions were critical to the endosymbiotic theory—the accepted scientific consensus concerning the manner certain organelles were formed. She also helped to formulate thee Gaia hypothesis, which posits that all life is linked together as a super-organism.

Darrell K. Sweet (August 15th, 1934 – December 5th, 2011) was a fantasy illustrator famous for providing cover art for novels such as the Wheel of Time series and the Xanth series.

Robot Adept (Darell K. Sweet, mixed media)

Václav Havel (October 5th, 1936 – December 18th, 2011) was a Czech playwright, essayist, and political dissident who ended up becoming the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic as the iron curtain crashed down around Europe.  I have a special fondness for Havel since he wrote “The Memorandum”, the first play I acted in during high school.  I played the officious pedant “Lear”, mouthpiece of the latest inane concept sweeping through a hidebound bureaucracy.  I enjoyed the role intellectually but didn’t really get Havel till I grew up and went to work in an office.

At the end of the year it is common to list the important people who died during that year along with a list of their honors and accomplishments.  Looking at some of these lists for 2010 frustrated me because most of the obituaries were for actors, musicians, hyper-rich maniacs, and politicians rather than for people whom I actually admire. I have therefore compiled the obituaries of various eminent people whose deaths did not necessarily make a big splash on CNN or similar mass media news outlets. You may never have heard of some of these people until now, but their lives and works were moving to me (and in some cases, such as those of Mandelbrot, Nirenberg, and Black—truly important to a great many people).  I only wrote a very brief biography for each but I included Wikipedia links if you want more information.

Farewell to the following souls. May they rest in peace and may their ideas live on:

January 11 – Éric Rohmer was the last French new wave director.  His flirtatious movies combined knowledge of our secret longings with everyday cheerfulness (always expressed in a very Gallic fashion).  His last work Romance of Astree and Celadon was a screen adaptation of 17th century pastoral play by Honoré d’Urfé.

A still shot from "Pauline at the Beach" (Éric Rohmer, 1983)

January 15 – Marshall Warren Nirenberg was a biologist who won the Nobel Prize (and many other scientific prizes) for ascertaining how genetic instructions are translated from nucleic acids into protein synthesis.

March 22 –  Sir James Whyte Black was a Scottish doctor and pharmacologist who developed a beta blocker used for the treatment of heart disease.  The Texas Journal of Cardiology described this innovation as “one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century.”

May 10 – Frank Frazetta was a groundbreaking commercial illustrator whose work has influenced the genres of fantasy and science fiction.

The cover of "Conan the Usurper" (Frank Frazetta, 1967)

June 18 – José Saramago was a Portuguese novelist.  A communist, atheist, and pessimist Saramago wrote metaphorical novels about the human condition in an increasingly crowded & mechanized world.  His most successful work is Blindness a novel about a plague of blindness sweeping through modern society.  The novel is simultaneously a soaring literary allegory and a harrowing horror story.

August 23 – Satoshi Kon was a director of visionary animated movies.  Although his films didn’t always soar to the emotional heights reached by his countryman Miazaki, they were awesomely innovative and greatly forwarded the medium (which in Japan has been moving from children’s entertainment towards literature and art).

A still shot from "Paprika" (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

October 14 – Benoît Mandelbrot was a Franco-American mathematician (born in Poland) who is best known as the father of fractal geometry. His intuition and imagination allowed him to perceive self-similar mathematical underpinnings behind all manner of natural structures.  From galaxies, to coastlines, to blood vessals , to biorhythms–the entire universe is increasingly recognizable as interlocking fractals thanks to his insights.

A Mandelbrot Fractal

October 28 – Akiko Hoshino was a gifted pastel artist who I knew from the Art Students’ League.  She was just beginning to make progress in the art world with her luminous realistic pastel drawings when she was struck and killed by a careless driver who was driving backwards.

Wait for the Right Moment II (Akiko Hoshino, 2010)

November 28 – Leslie Nielsen was a hilarious comic straight man whose deadpan acting carried the great parody films Airplane and The Naked Gun (as well as innumerable derivative spoofs).  As an enduring testament to his greatness, my friends are still stealing his jokes.  Surely he was one of a kind.

"...and don't call me 'Shirley.'"

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